Follow The Rulebook While Using Heating Appliances
With the beginning of winter in Kashmir, a chill also runs through the spine of poor people, and also the old and ailing people, thinking about how this winter is going to pass. In my experience, winter in Kashmir is highly enjoyable if there is availability of things to keep you warm.
But if adequate care is not taken, the traditional devices and the modern gadgets that we use to keep warm in winter can cause serious and even fatal mishaps. Asphyxiation deaths—deaths brought on by suffocation—are reported often in Kashmir. Such cases are particularly during the winter months when the use of appliances like gas and coal heaters fills our homes with deadly levels of carbon monoxide.
Proper Ventilation Essential
I am reminded of the days when I was a student of Kashmir University. It was exceedingly cold in winter, so the administration placed coal bukharis in the class rooms and the departmental libraries. Once during our research methodology class, I started coughing and a few other students also felt short of breath. The Professor who was teaching the class felt the same. He immediately opened the windows and the door of the classroom for ventilation, and then we felt better.
Recently an old couple in Noorbagh area of Baramulla died due to asphyxiation caused by the leakage of gas from the gas heater they were using to keep themselves warm.
In late November in 2020, a woman and her two children allegedly died from asphyxia while a bukahri (wood burning heater) was lighted in their room to ward off the frost. The incident took place in Uri, in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
Who can forget the chilling images of a Kupwara district family of five that was discovered dead in their rented home in Srinagar’s Bemina neighbourhood. The reason was the same – asphyxiation by the use of gas heaters. These incidents are highly tragic.
Sadly, these deaths don’t just happen occasionally. From time to time, we are alarmed to hear of them in Kashmir. It is true that home heating has advanced in recent years. However, disasters like those in Uri or Bemina continue to happen despite progress.
Faulty Use Of Heating Appliances Can Cause Hypoxia
When using gas heaters, there is a very real risk of hypoxia. Many people have passed away while they were asleep as a result of gas leaks or heaters exhausting all the oxygen in the space. If not utilised carefully, other heaters that use wood, charcoal, or kerosene can pose much greater risks.
Health professionals advocate that if we educate the public about preventive actions, fewer fatalities and problems may occur. Continuous watch is necessary for the safety of the users, with no room for exceptions.
Along with improving workplace safety, the public outreach strategy also needs to be strengthened. The risks and safety precautions associated with using various heating devices must be highlighted by the government from time to time through continuous awareness campaigns.
Almost every household in Kashmir and the schools, hospitals etc make use of gas heaters and coal bukharis. The Administration must issue advisories regarding their use regularly. Various departments like the Health Department, Social Welfare Department etc must involve the Education Department in advising people on how to judiciously make use of heating appliances so that deaths can be prevented.
Regular Advisories, Awareness Campaigns May Help
Speaking to Kashmir Central, Dr Arif Maghribi Khan said, “Instead of saying stop use of heating – which is not possible, I will say – please invest in a carbon monoxide detector to prevent unwanted deaths. Also keep a small opening for ventilation. Before going to sleep, check if there is proper ventilation in the rooms. It is the responsibility of each family member to check for this.”
Schools use bukharis to keep the classrooms, offices and other common indoor spaces warm. Mr Shabir Ahmad, a teacher, told Kashmir Central, “Using bukharis in the schools during winter seems a viable option. It is affordable and produces more heat than other sources. We need to be careful about its use so that it does not cause any harm.”
Recently the administration issued a blanket ban on use of on the storage, sale, possession and use of heating appliances such as blowers, heaters, radiators, etc. due to the anticipation of “heavy load on (electricity) transmission system” in the winter.
After facing huge criticism by politicians and people in general, the order was withdrawn. We are aware that the heavy usage of electricity causes heavy load on transmission lines and they suffer damage, leading to power outage in many parts of the valley during winter.
Rather than banning the sale and use of these appliances, the administration should issue advisories regarding proper usage of all appliances. For example, users can be advised that geysers should be turned off while using other heating appliances to minimize load. The severe winter of Kashmir is a difficult time. We can manage this period well if the Administration and the people work together for optimization of the resources.